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Interview with PD

PD loves his music, loves good sound, loves the convenience of his arm-chair controller and loves the digital medium. He’d like to move into hi-res music, but he’s hesitant due to the poor integration of hardware and software. And as he gets older he really can’t be bothered with computers anymore!

This interview by Tom Waters was originally published in Sound Travels (reprinted with permission of nextmedia Pty Ltd).

Tom Waters: Do you have a first memory, a first unforgettable musical experience that left an impression?

PDs front endPD: In 1959 I saw the Diamonds perform at the Stadium in Sydney and when Dave Somerville went into the audience singing Little Darlin' I was mesmerised. I’d never seen anyone run around the stage so much! I was very impressionable I suppose. Of course I was much too young to have equipment of my own but the family had recently acquired an HMV radiogram in the 50’s and I played records on that. Later in 1968 I saw Roy Orbison at the Silver Spade Room at the Chevron Hilton in Kings Cross and I still rate him as the best singer ever, although I find most of his recordings to be a bit sterile, even older producers took some of the soul out of recordings.

TW: And did that start you on the hi-fi journey or did something else start you on the audio equipment quest?

PD: Shortly after seeing the big "O" I bought a 3-in-1 when they were all the rage. Not truly HiFi but all I could afford. About 10 years later I was wandering through Norman Ross (before becoming Harvey Norman) and saw my first real HiFi, a Technics system. I couldn't believe the sound and bought it a couple of days later and still use most of it in my study. And getting back to Orbison – he’d just stand there and sing, all in black, his mouth would hardly open, so effortless. He was amazing to watch.

TW: Where do you think your system is going, or has it arrived?

PD: I'm not one to chase a sound - I've never been on a quest as you might term it. I've really only bought two HiFi systems, the Technics after my first marriage failed, and the current one when I retired. I settled on the Bryston gear because it sounded great and it is built so solidly. With its 20 year warranty, you can’t go wrong. Besides the sound, a system has to complement the look of our lounge room, it took me a long time to settle on speakers and I love the fact that the Acoustic Energy speakers produce such good sound and are relatively small and don’t dominate the room. I don’t think components like amps have changed a lot over the years - yes they are getting somewhat better but that is due more to better parts than better circuits. Having said all that, it doesn't mean I won't upgrade something in the future but there's no real plan. However a decent network player that can handle 24/192 audio files at a reasonable price and with a reliable iPhone/iPad interface would be tempting.

TW: What’s your favourite piece of equipment at the moment, something that you wouldn’t sell?

PD: I've only ever sold a pair of speakers that were just too big for the room, so I'm unlikely to sell anything else, but to answer your question my Acoustic Energy speakers are my favourite, followed closely by my amp. The speakers are still quite new, the Bryston gear is around 5 years old.

TW: What do you see as your next hi-fi purchase or upgrade?

PD: Nothing at the moment. As I mentioned I would like a simple reliable network player capable of supporting 24/192 FLAC but it would need to be as usable as the Sonos (which doesn't do hi-res unfortunately) and priced similarly. I haven't found anything suitable. After 40 years in IT, I can see digital formats getting into 32/384 at some stage and an expensive purchase isn't justifiable. I’d like to get an all-in-one music server and try to do away with multiple hardware/software interfaces. Both PureMusic and Amarra are based on iTunes, and Apple keeps changing iTunes so the interfaces keep breaking. I keep trying to find something that’s at least as good as the Sonos interface. But so far I just haven’t found anything!

SpeakerTW: So if you did get into hi-res, what would you consider a reasonable price to tempt you?

PD: My DAC is quite capable of hi-res, it’s just the controller unit that’s the worry. I could use PureMusic on my Mac, but I don’t want to go that way. It could be because I’ve been in the computer industry for 40 years – I now hate computers! I want something that I don’t have to go playing around with so much just to keep things operational. I’d like to keep using my NAS drive and just pull the music off that. I’d be happy to pay up to $2000 if the solution was appealing.

TW: What’s the most memorable pair of speakers (or system as a whole) you’ve ever heard?

PD: The most memorable (certainly not the best) was the Technics system when I first heard it. Just blew me away at that time. The best speakers/system/room I've heard recently would be the Unison Research Malibran speakers powered by Karan equipment at Sydney HiFi in Castle Hill. It may be that the room is so well treated acoustically but the sound just envelops you and you feel you're just part of it with all your senses. I’d like to hear the various systems Sydney Audio Club members have, but we live so far away that it’s hard to get the various SIGs (Special Interest Groups). Maybe someday!

TW: Is there any component you’ve owned and sold that you now regret selling?

PD: In a word, no. I've never been a continual up-grader and still have almost all my old stuff.

TW: Do you use the same music for comparing components as you do for listening pleasure?

PD: Although I don't buy a lot of equipment, I continually go to HiFi stores to listen to new gear and I tend to listen to my favourite music as I know it so well.

TW: What genre of music do you listen to mostly and who are some of your favourite artists?

PD: I don't really have a favourite genre, although I must admit I can't get into classical. I do like the old classic standards but most others don't press my buttons. Two of my sons are in bands, one is the drummer for one of Australia's standard Punk bands and the other is a bass player in an Indie band and is currently living in the US. I've learned to tolerate Punk and quite like Indie as a result. I do prefer jazz, soul and rock. Stuff like Jennifer Warnes, Diana Krall, Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac, Roy Orbison, Dean Martin, Gershwin, 50/60 rock, country and folk.

TW: What would be your ‘desert island’ music albums if you could only choose, say, three works?

PD: This is never easy for anyone, but at this point in time I would pick Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms, The Great Australian Songbook, and an old LP with Johnny Mathis on one side and Nat King Cole on the other.

TW: How would you describe the sound you’re getting from your current system?

PD: For me it is detailed, honest, involving. I still go to HiFi shops a lot, to chat with people and listen. And I think… ‘This isn’t really much better than I have at home’. So my incentive to change gear isn’t overwhelming. I know I’d have to get into some ridiculously expensive gear to really hear a difference. (And I’m retired so I don’t want to spend huge money!). I have changed my cabling a couple of times recently – that’s made quite an improvement. I read magazines where people say a cable is just a cable – I can’t believe it! Cabling can make a huge difference, power cables too.

TW: When you say your system’s sound is “honest”, do you mean tonality, the naturalness of the sound?

PD: Basically yes, to my ears my system doesn’t sound coloured at all. It has a relaxed but detailed quality, truth to timbre.

TW: In what way does music affect your life, your emotions and the way you feel?

PD: Music has a great effect on my life. It can be calming, exciting, sexy or depressing, it depends largely on you. Music is not just heard on HiFi equipment; you hear it all the time in the car, in shops, in elevators, on TV shows and movies. Even when you don't realise it, it is the background music that sets the scenes and makes them so powerful. I particularly like listening to music while using my ride-on mower as I'm usually out there for around 4 hours at a time. Of course then I'm using an iPhone and Sennheiser headphones.

TurntableTW: Where do you see the high-end audio industry going in the future?

PD: I have difficulty with the idea of “high-end” – do you mean in terms of price or quality? And where does high-end start? I think some people equate high-end to expensive. I can't see why inexpensive equipment like iPods can't move more into high-end quality hardware, and audio files into high quality specs. Hardware items are becoming cheaper and memory keeps growing exponentially as well as communications links. The NBN should allow fast downloads of large files. Of course it all comes down to exciting the consumer and if Apple or Samsung brought out a truly high-end portable device at a reasonable price (and they can if they want to) their devotees would love the obvious advantage over the opposition and then demand better download files. I think and hope that someone may make the leap for a market advantage. I think high-end products are selling well, and the quality seems to be getting better and for much less money too.

TW: Where would you like the audio industry to go or to evolve to?

PD: I like the way things are evolving, except for the dumbing down of record producers. I don't think CDs or LPs will go away, just become niche markets. Downloads will become the norm and quality will continue to improve. Streaming services like Spotify will continue but likely only for low-res music. I deplore the software some HiFi manufacturers are supplying for their network devices though. As an ex-programmer I cannot understand the lack of reliability or ease of use, especially if you use Sonos or iTunes as a yardstick. But these large corporations have been so successful to-date that they haven’t needed to embrace hi-res. I can't see big changes for amps or speakers, even cheaper ones are very good these days. It really is early days in the network audio business but it will evolve quickly. Who knows what form things will take or which manufacturers will rule? After all, history is awash with failed companies that once ruled the roost. Who thought Microsoft would play second fiddle to Apple and Google, or Sony and Panasonic currently being sent to the wall by companies like Samsung and LG? We might settle on 32 bit 384K (or DSD?) but I think that extreme high-res is more about marketing and less about sound quality. I think the industry has to try to establish standards and make it all simpler – purchasing music, downloading and the equipment interfaces themselves.

(Interview by Tom Waters, President, Sydney Audio Club www.sydneyaudioclub.org.au)

Equipment List

Main HiFi
Turntable Technics SL33
Phono stage Pro-Ject Tube Box SE
CD Player Bryston BCD-1
DAC Bryston BDA-1
Preamp Bryston BP26
Power amp Bryston 4B SST (300w)
Sonos Sonos for music files via DAC
Speakers Acoustic Energy Reference AE-3
ADC Furutech ADL Esprit (used to convert LP to 24/96 digital)
Cables Mostly Analysis Plus, some AudioQuest

 

Main Home Theatre
Denon 4311 multi-channel receiver
Rotel 5 channel amp (class D)
Sony Bluray player
Digitalview PVR
Foxtel IQ2
Fujitsu monitor
VAF speakers as surround speakers
Acoustic Energy speakers used as main speakers

 

Study HiFi
1980 Technics preamp/receiver, 40w amp, cassette deck (turntable on main system)
1991 Technics CD player
Speakers - stand mount Solids (old B&W offshoot)